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Man pleads in MTU bomb case

October 17, 2008
The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE (AP) - A New York man has pleaded guilty to trying to destroy two buildings at Michigan Tech University as part of a radical environmental protest.

Ian Wallace also admits in his plea agreement to three other acts, including the destruction of 500 research trees at a federal lab in Rhinelander, Wis., in 2000. The value of the trees is estimated at $1 million.

Wallace, 27, of East Setauket, N.Y., appeared in federal court Wednesday in Marquette and pleaded guilty to attempting to firebomb two buildings at Michigan Tech in November 2001. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Containers holding combustible liquids were placed near the buildings between midnight and 1 a.m., but the timers didn't work.

In the plea agreement, Wallace acknowledged facts described by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank.

On Nov. 4, 2001, he and an acquaintance drove 370 miles to Houghton from the Minneapolis area, where Wallace was living. They were transporting two homemade incendiary devices to destroy a campus building that belonged to the U.S. Forest Service.

Their other target was Michigan Tech's U.J. Noblet Forestry Building, where federally funded research was being conducted.

''They hoped not only to destroy the research but also, through such an act of violence, to intimidate and deter government agencies, private organizations and the general public from conducting or supporting such research,'' the plea agreement states.

Wallace was acting in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, a radical group.

Besides the Michigan Tech incident and the destruction of research trees in Wisconsin, Wallace also acknowledged vandalizing vehicles at a Forest Service research station at the University of Minnesota in April 2000.

He also took responsibility for an arson at a construction site at the university in January 2002. The loss was $630,000.

Wallace won't be charged, but a judge can consider those acts when he is sentenced. A message seeking comment was left Thursday with his attorney, Edward Panzer.

''A civilized society must tolerate a diversity of thought, but it can never accept the destruction of property or endangering innocent people by adherents to a cause,'' U.S. Attorney Charles Gross said in a statement.

The Wisconsin trees were mature hybrid poplars. Some still are standing, but their value for research purposes has been eliminated or greatly diminished, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Duchemin in Madison, Wis.

Investigators believe the motive was to disrupt genetic tree research, she said.

''They were either girdled, cutting away the bark, or cut down,'' said Sally Toomey, a Minnesota-based spokeswoman for the Forest Service's Northern Research Station. ''They were part of a research program to produce faster-growing, more disease-resistant trees. This study had been under way for more than 20 years.''

Wallace has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Wisconsin. In July, three people were indicted for their alleged roles in the Rhinelander attack.

A message was left at the scene: ''ELF is watching the U.S. Forest Service.''



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